Boeing 747: why British Airways’ planes are flying into retirement - and double take-off tribute explained

The decision to retire the aircrafts was made back in July, bringing their retirement forward by four years

The retirement of the planes was marked with a double take off tribute (Photo: Shutterstock)

The final two Heathrow-based Boeing 747 aircrafts are being retired today (8 October), and jetting off on their last flights.

British Airways (BA) had planned to keep flying the Boeing 747s for another four years, until the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

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Why is BA retiring its Boeing 747s?

The financial impact of Covid-19 has been harsh on many businesses around the world, and has significantly affected airlines, due to travel restrictions.

BA made the decision to retire its Boeing 747 jets in July this year, after the pandemic took hold. The planes last flew commercially back in April, and were always known by BA as ‘The Queen of the Skies’.

Speaking on 7 October, Alex Cruz, BA chairman and CEO, said, “Tomorrow will be a difficult day for everybody at British Airways as the aircraft leaves our home at Heathrow for the very last time.

“We will pay tribute to them for the incredible part they have played in our 100 year history and to the millions of customers and BA colleagues who have flown on board and taken care of them.”

The Boeing 747 jets are set to be replaced by quieter and more fuel efficient aircrafts, as part of BA’s commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Captain Al Bridger, who has flown the iconic jets for three decades, said, “It’s going to be a very emotional day. You deliver an aircraft to its destination, you shut it down, it’s almost like switching off its life support for the last time.

“In the past I’ve actually apologised to aircrafts when I’ve done it. It’s going to be a day of mixed emotions.”

BA engineer, John Moore, who has worked on the aircrafts for 35 years, and even witnessed the first ever 747 flight in the United States, said, “It’s going to be missed. I will be very sad because I’ve four grandchildren and when a jumbo flies over the house they always look up and say ‘that’s one of granddad’s planes’. It’s like losing a member of the family.”

What is the double take off tribute?

To mark the jets going into retirement, the two Boeing 747s were set to take off simultaneously from Heathrow to embark upon their final journeys at 8:30am on Thursday 8 October. However, due to the poor weather, the aircrafts instead took off one after another.

One aircraft flew to Cardiff and the other to Kemble, in Gloucestershire, where the two jumbo jets were broken down for spare parts.

British Airways broadcast the event live on its Facebook page, inviting aviation enthusiasts and customers to bid farewell to the jets, and to share memories and photographs. Around 18,000 people tuned into the live event to watch the final flights of the aircrafts.

If you missed it live, you can still watch the event on Facebook.

BA expects that the last 747s, which are currently positioned in Wales, to leave the fleet by the end of the year.